Words to remember: Digital archives help immigrants share their stories

May 5, 2015

On the wall behind Matthew Garcia’s desk hangs a framed black-and-white picture of a woman, her head and shoulders emerging from the thick foliage of a grove of fig trees. She is Garcia’s grandmother, who worked as a farm laborer in California.

His family history is steeped in agriculture. farm laborers in a field Download Full Image

“My great-grandfather and great-grandmother came here [from Latin America], and were in some ways, in the 1920s and 30s, forced into the migrant stream of agricultural workers throughout California,” he said. “My grandmother picked fruit, picked figs, picked citrus, did all those things. My grandfather was born, as he said, in a lettuce patch in Calipatria, Imperial County, California.”

Garcia, who is the director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies and the Comparative Border Studies Program at Arizona State University, said his family history inspired his academic interest in immigrant agricultural laborers.

In his opinion, farm laborers are often a “forgotten angle” in today’s food-conscious society. He’s been working to change that, in part by gathering the personal stories of the laborers themselves.

Oral history is a research method through which stories, told by the people who experienced them, are collected and archived. It’s “both the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940s and now using 21st-century digital technologies,” according to the Oral History Association website.

Oral histories help to preserve memories for cultural and historical purposes, particularly the memories of marginalized groups that never had a chance to write the history books. Immigrants are one such group.

Tales of the braceros

In 1942, at the height of World War II, agricultural leaders became worried about labor shortages. The Bracero Program was created to bring millions of Mexican guest workers into the U.S. to sustain the labor force. 

Many people have suggested guest worker programs as part of modern-day immigration reform policies. But Garcia cautions that The Bracero Program was rife with problems. For example, the braceros had no rights and could be deported at any time.

The program also brought down the wages of U.S. farm workers, which was one of the reasons that César Chavez campaigned to end it. In 1964 the program did end, but many guest worker programs around the world still suffer from similar human rights abuses.

To learn about this period in history, Garcia invited the braceros and their families to tell their stories with posters written in Spanish.

“We had no idea who would come, but it ended up being very successful,” Garcia said.

The team collected more than 700 interviews and launched the Bracero History Archive, which won the Best Public History Project from the National Council for Public History in 2010. The archive also led to a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit called “Bittersweet Harvest.”

The stories range from short vignettes from people who worked with braceros, to people who are looking for information about relatives, and of course the stories of the braceros themselves, often related in Spanish.

Ron Taylor is a U.S. citizen who worked in the fields alongside braceros when he was a high school student in California. He recalls a summer day when his asthma made it difficult for him to work.

“I began to fall behind and was growing really worried when the bracero in the row to my left began stealthily working my row in addition to his own. Then the one on my right began doing the same thing. Neither of them said a word, but both of them were risking the wrath of the field boss just to help me,” Taylor wrote. “I have never forgotten those acts of kindness or the generosity of spirit they showed. They demonstrated in a very personal way the real purpose of the bracero program, extending an arm to help a neighbor.”

Not everyone was so friendly toward the guest workers, however. Juan Loza, a bracero who was interviewed in Spanish by Mireya Loza, spoke about some of the hardships he encountered. In Lubbock, Texas, he was refused service at a restaurant and violently removed, which was one of “two very big reasons that I felt disdainful, that I felt disappointed with the place,” he said.

When he was sent to work in California, he also faced mistreatment.

“Throughout the whole mile [of field furrows] we had to be bent over with a hoe – twelve inches from start to finish – and we couldn’t get up because there were about three field bosses… we couldn’t [get up] for any reason. They simply sent you back to Mexico again if you didn’t obey them,” he said.

The Bracero History Archive project is complete, but people can still upload stories and images to the site. Now, Garcia is working with the UCLA Labor Center on a new immigration-focused project, Undocumented Voices. The project examines the undocumented youth movement and, like the bracero project, will create a digital archive of oral histories.

Within the immigration debate, Garcia sees his work as building “bridges of understanding,” and helping to highlight immigrants’ humanity. He says it can also help contribute to more informed discussion, such as making people aware of flaws in The Bracero Program so that its mistakes are not repeated in trying to create a solution for current immigration problems.

South Asian American stories

Today, people in the U.S. often associate immigration – particularly undocumented immigration – with Latinos. But there are many non-Latino individuals and communities who have stakes in immigration policy or stories to tell. In fact, a leader of the undocumented youth movement Garcia works with was a young Vietnamese woman, Tam Tran.

Nilanjana Bhattacharjya is an ASU ethnomusicologist who uses oral histories to engage immigrants from the opposite side of the globe. Bhattacharjya is a faculty member in Barrett, The Honors College, and co-chair of the Academic Council of the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA).

One reason she finds the archive interesting is that it deals with a racial category that circulates in the context of academics and social and political advocacy, but is only rarely used by most people in the context of their everyday lives. She says most Americans who are lumped into the “South Asian” category self-identify far more specifically, such as Pakistani-American or Punjabi. By defining itself through a category that transcends these more specific identities, the South Asian American Digital Archive encourages people to focus on what they share – as opposed to what divides them. Another unique aspect of the archive is its inclusiveness.

“People can contribute their own stories no matter where they’re from, how they identify themselves, or what their socio-economic backgrounds are,” Bhattacharjya said. This inclusiveness is a big part of what makes the archive a vital resource for both communities and researchers. Ensuring representation, present and historical, is another.

“If someone's teaching an immigration history course that focuses on the United States, it's not necessarily the case that South Asian Americans would be considered specifically within the standard textbook, even though they're one of the most rapidly growing populations in this country today,” Bhattacharjya said. “We aim to provide a resource that people can use, not just in colleges but also in high schools, even in grade schools.”

She added, “For instance, if you wanted to do a report on Asian Americans in Congress, you would want to know about Dalip Sigh Saund. SAADA's the kind of place where you actually find out about him. Until SAADA began to collect his materials, there wasn't a lot otherwise written on him that people could access. But now there's this body of material to look at.”

Dalip Singh Saund was a Punjabi Sikh who represented California’s 29th Congressional District from 1957-1963. He was the son of well-off Sikh parents from the northern Indian village of Chhajalwadi. In 1920, he arrived in the U.S. to do post-graduate work at the University of California, studying first food preservation and then earning a doctorate in mathematics.

Due to his immigration status, Saund could not find a university position in mathematics and shifted his interest to local agriculture. He moved to the Imperial Valley and was a farmer during the Great Depression but after he became a U.S. citizen in 1949, he ran for municipal district judge. He won the election and became well regarded as a judge (A Reader’s Digest article calls his decisions “Lincolnesque”). In 1956 he became the first Asian to be elected to Congress and the rare Democrat to be elected by the heavily Republican 29th District.

This simple act of gathering and displaying accurate information can make a big difference in people's lives. Bhattacharjya recalls hearing from some of her students who attended a lecture by SAADA’s co-founder and executive director, Samip Mallick.

“They said things like, ‘Wow, it was interesting to see someone who looks like me in Congress that early in the 1960s… I thought immigrants and people like me weren't really part of America at that point,’” she said. “But SAADA’s collection establishes that we have these stories of people being very much a part of the U.S. and U.S. history much earlier than most people recognize. So it changes people's ideas of belonging and identity and citizenship.”

Even the act of interviewing can make a difference, as it helps people realize that their stories matter and that their community is real.

In the future, Bhattacharjya hopes to work with SAADA to get ASU students more involved in collecting stories from Arizona’s South Asian community.

“South Asians in the Southwest are a relatively new community, not especially established but very rapidly growing,” she said. “There's nothing written on these people so it'll be great to get some of their stories and histories into the archive. We hope to develop an ASU course in the future that helps students learn interview techniques, learn about doing archival work and actually generate material for the archive.”

By doing that, the stories people carried with them, whoever they are – immigrants, first-generation Americans, guest workers – will be carried on for future generations.

Written by Erin Barton, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

Allie Nicodemo

Communications specialist, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development


Liberal Arts and Sciences names 2015 Dean's medalists

May 5, 2015

ASU 2015 commencement banner

Surviving four or more years of college is hard enough, but some Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ students go above and beyond by taking opportunities to further their education. They take advanced courses, study abroad, participate in research – and do it exceptionally. Download Full Image

These students receive the college’s Dean’s medal and are honored at the end of the year by their school or department.

Meet the 2014-2015 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s medalists:

Emily Fritcke

Dean’s medal: Department of English
Major: English Literature and History
Minor: Arabic Studies
Certificate: Study of Religion and Conflict
Accomplishments: Fritcke
 currently works for the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict as a marketing and communications assistant. She served two years as a research assistant to Yasmin Saikia studying the impact of the education process on Pakistani youth and is presently an assistant coordinator for an upcoming international conference on political Islam. Fritcke
 has been active in Arizona politics working on a Congressional campaign in 2012 and serving as campaign manager for a local high school board candidate in 2014. In the summer of 2014, Fritcke
 completed a program studying Eastern European literature in Romania, under the guidance of Ileana Orlich.
Thesis focus: Explored how governments manipulate history curricula to create their ideal citizenry.
Post-graduation plans: Fritcke
 plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career that will provide her the opportunity to promote the advancement of international relations and women’s rights.

Jenna Smith

Dean’s medal: School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and School of International Letters and Cultures
Major: Philosophy, Classics
Certificate: Symbolic Systems
Accomplishments: Smith was one of a group of four undergraduates who presented an evening on "Alan Turing and the Imitation Game," for the community group Spirit of the Senses. She has been a campus campaign coordinator and operations coordinator for Teach For America. Smith has worked in leadership positions for ASU Changemaker Central, the ASU School of International Letters and Culture, and Barrett, The Honors College.
Thesis: Compiled a body of advice that jurors can use regarding reasonable doubt, knowledge vs. belief, and legal proof, when making decisions about a defendant’s guilt or innocence in capital cases.
Post-graduation plans: Her plan is to request a deferral from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law so that she can pursue either a Teach for America opportunity or a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant in South Korea.

Ryan Muller

Dean’s medal: Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Major: Biochemistry and Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology
Minor: Mathematics
Accomplishments: Muller conducted undergraduate research in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley as an Amgen Scholar. He was a member of the ASU iGEM Synthetic Biology Research Team. Muller has been published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology and spoken at conferences like the Center for RNA Systems Biology Annual Meeting.

“He is one of the best and brightest students that will have graduated from our department. Ryan truly epitomizes what the undergraduate experience can be for a student in the new American University,” said Wilson Francisco, associate professor and associate chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Katherine Sheppard

Dean’s medal: School of Earth and Space Exploration
Major: Earth and Space Exploration
Concentration: Geological Sciences
Thesis: Senior Thesis Research: Experimental Petrology and Igneous Processes Center (EPIC)
Post-graduation plans: Pursuing a doctorate at a university.

“Katherine was hired in our SIMS lab as a student worker, and I really do not think of her as an undergraduate, but as a graduate student who has used her time in the research and classroom arenas to gain and master an amazing breadth of scientific skills and knowledge,” said Rick Hervig, professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Anika Larson

Dean’s medal: School of Life Sciences
Major: Biological Sciences and Global Studies
Accomplishments: Larson has worked on a project on taking education to prisons, and she leads a team on teaching biology to a group of adult inmate students. Larson also has environmental health research experience with organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Protection and School Lunch Project. She also participated in many on-campus organizations like the Prison Education Awareness Club and Health and Counseling Student Action Committee.

“She is often the one working late in the lab, dedicated to getting the job done. When she has taken the work on the road, with posters and presentations, that has proven very successful as well. She stands out in these traditional areas of study and research,” said Jane Maienschein, director, Center for Biology and Society.

Lauren Crider

Dean’s medal: School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Major: Mathematics
Accomplishments: Crider has published two papers on applied mathematics topics in proceedings of international conferences and has made numerous research presentations at conferences, workshops, and student research forums. She’s interned at the Air Force Research Laboratory and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

“Lauren Crider exemplifies what it means to excel as a CLAS Mathematics student,” said Nancy Childress, associate director, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Christopher Luna

Dean’s medal: Department of Physics
Major: Physics and Mathematics
Accomplishments: Luna has been published in a number of journals. He’s a peer mentor and helps lower division physic students. He’s also involved with organizations, such as the American Physical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Thesis: Neural Networks for Predicting Heat Transport in Tokamak Plasmas.

“A striking aspect of his character is his humility. Academically, Christopher stays grounded, with no big-headedness, even though he was top of my class. As a student in my classes, he took it upon himself to mentor some of the other students who were having difficulties. As a result, all of those students ended up doing well in my class. I am positive that Christopher will be a fabulous teacher/mentor.” -Michael Treacy, Professor of Physics

Sydney-Paige Komarnisky

Dean’s medal: Department of Psychology
Major: Psychology and Biology
Accomplishments: Komarnisky helped with research in the Kwan Warriors Lab, Las Madres Nuevas Lab, and Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab. She’s interned at HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center and volunteered at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Hospice of the Valley. She also was involved with the Barrett Mentoring Program for two years and helped freshmen adjust to college life.
Thesis: Momentary Associations Among Negative Affect and Cortisol: Is Alone vs. Not Alone a Moderator? Is Perceived Support a Moderator?

“Paige is an amazingly thoughtful young scholar. As a research assistant in my lab, she was one of those rare undergraduates who actively sought opportunities to acquire deeper understandings of the phenomena we were studying. She was a joy to work with, and set a very high standard for other outstanding students to follow,” said Keith Crnic, Las Madres Nuevas project.

Shelly Bruno

Dean’s medal: American Indian Studies Program
Major: American Indian Studies
Accomplishments: Bruno was involved in a number of organizations while attending ASU. She was involved in the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund and Save the Wolves Foundation while helping as a troop leader for her son’s and daughter’s Boy and Girl Scout troops.

“Shelly’s focus on environmental justice and sacred site protection on Indigenous lands are also noted in her work. She is responsible, caring and strives to improve the quality of life for people. She has a bright future and we wish her well,” said John W. Tippeconnic III, director of the American Indian Studies Program.

Jakob Hansen

Dean’s medal: Department of Economics
Major: Economics and Mathematics
Minor: Music Performance
Accomplishments: Hansen contributed to two publications that were in the Journal of Computational and Applied Mathematics and BIT Numerical Mathematics. He also has been awarded the Economics Department’s JP Morgan Chase Scholarship, the Goldwater Scholarship, and National Merit Finalist scholarship. Hansen was an ATR Center Intern, a research assistant at ASU and a participant in the CSUMS Summer Research Program.
Thesis: Downsampling for Parameter Choice in Ill-Posed Deconvolution Problems

Ryan McConnaughy

Dean’s medal: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
Major: Communication, Sociology
Accomplishments: McConnaughy has received numerous academic awards, and is a member of several academic and professional organizations, including the Association of Human Communication, the National Communication Association and Phi Theta Kappa. McConnaughy, a Navy veteran, is a member of the Barrett Veteran Advisory Group, who strive to increase Veteran’s interest in Barrett and recruit more Veteran students. He has also worked with Barrett Association of Transfer Students, to assist incoming students with their transition to ASU. McConnaughy has also volunteered with Arizona Special Olympics.
Thesis: Battlefield to Classroom: Issues Veteran Students face communicating in the classroom

Jaylee Conlin

Dean’s medal: School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning
Major: Geography and Computer Science
Accomplishments: v was selected for the NASA Student Airborne Program and spent the summer doing research with NASA. She won the Outstanding Student Paper Award at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in 2014.

“We went with Jaylee Conlin because of the rigor of her programs of study plus two other qualities. She was selected for the prestigious NASA Student Airborne Program, spending the summer doing research with NASA involving flight work, and as product of this research won the Outstanding Student Paper Award in the December meeting of the AGU (American Geophysical Union). There were several winners, but the competition is national and Colin was up against students from elite institutions across the country,” said Billie L. Turner, Gilbert F. White Professor of Environment and Society, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

Hannah McAtee

Dean’s medal: School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Major: Global Health and Pre Medicine
Minor: Spanish
Accomplishments: McAtee has been recognized in a variety of different scholar programs, such as the Tillman Scholar, Barrett-Mayo Premedical Scholar and Grady and Kathryn Gammage Memorial Scholar. She’s interned twice for World Food Prize in India and Washington, D.C. as well as volunteering at Make-A-Wish and Trinity Hospital.

“Since her first days in our lab, Hannah has indicated that her career goal is to be a medical doctor and unlike many students, she truly understands the commitment she is making in this regard. Next year, Hannah will be moving on to medical school at one of the four institutions to which she was accepted. I am confident that Hannah will find success in all her future endeavors,” said Anika Hutchinson, aademic success specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Alyssa Timms

Dean’s medal: School of Politics and Global Studies
Major: Political Science
Minor: Military Leadership
Certificate: Political Entrepreneurship
Accomplishments: Timms is a Reserve Officer Training Corps member. She interned in Washington, D.C. for a member of Congress while enrolled in the McCain Institute. She also was a part of the Junior Fellows program in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

“To my knowledge, we have not recognized her [enough] as the outstanding student that she is. Whether she follows a military career or a career in governmental service, she is well prepared and has the drive and determination to succeed and make us proud,” said Richard Herrera, associate director, School of Politics and Global Studies.

Abbey Pellino

Dean’s medal: T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics
Major: Sociology and Global Studies
Certificate: Religion and Conflict and International Studies
Accomplishments: Pellino is an undergraduate research fellow with the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. She had the opportunity to work on the Kakehashi Project in Japan where she exchanged ideas with local business owners, students and government officials. She also participated in a Semester at Sea and she was an American Rotaract Representative in the Ukraine in 2012.

“It was always a pleasure to work with her and to share ideas about her future career path. She has a positive and outgoing personality, and she is eager to continue her education in global affairs. She is a shining example of one of our many outstanding students in the Sanford School,” said Lois Laynor Goldblatt, academic success coordinator.

Samantha Sidoti

Dean’s medal: School of Social Transformation
Major: Women & Gender Studies and Human Communication
Accomplishments: Sidoti has helped freshmen through their college experience as an ASU Community Assistant, Senior Community Mentor and First Year Success Coach. She worked with the Purple Ribbon Council, a nonprofit focused on preventing teen dating violence.
Post-graduation plans: She will spend the next two years as a corps member of Teach For America.

Tate Desper

Dean’s medal: School of Transborder Studies
Major: Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies and Spanish Linguistics
Accomplishments: Tate has helped with research at Brown University’s Department of Anthropology and the Wells Fargo Fellowship’s Latino Undergraduate Research Collaborative. She is a recipient of the Wells Fargo Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies Research Scholarship.
Thesis: Rivera & Livramento: Linguistic Identity on the Uruguay-Brazil Border

“There is no doubt that Tate is an exceptional student, who will continue to be successful in her future endeavors,” said Edward Escobar, acting director and associate professor, School of Transborder Studies.

Written by Alicia Canales

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